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If asked to name the countries that have historically been the hotbeds of European free improvisation it's unlikely that most jazz enthusiasts would include Norway among their lists. England, Germany and France, yes, but Norway? Granted, players such as Jan Garbarek, Terje Rypdal and Arlid Andersen hail from Norway, but the careers of these veteran improvisers have only flirted with the idiom, their styles more commonly rooted in the creative atmospherics favored by Manfred Eicher's ECM label. Norwegian saxophonist Frode Gjerstad has been working diligently for over a decade to build an indigenous tradition for the music and based on his growing log of victories it appears that his efforts are starting to bear fruit. With an expanding discography and an array of projects both in the works and under his belt Gjerstad continues to advance a musical art form that is still in its fledgling stages on his native soil.
On this particular date, recorded in the sonic sanctum of the Spirit Room, Gjerstad takes full advantage of the unique recording techniques that are the CIMP label's signature approach. Deciding on a program of minimally pre-devised tunes Gjerstad sets a course in the direction that he knows best- spontaneously conceived collective improvisation. It turns out to be a highly satisfying strategy, due in no small part to the three players he's convened for the quartet, each of whom are flexible enough to flourish in such a setting of unrestrained creativity.
Bradford opts to concentrate only cornet and it's a real pleasure to witness his creations on the smaller, rounder-toned instrument, which lose none of the precision characteristic of his improvisations on his usual trumpet. Gjerstad's alto is typically exquisite throughout, negotiating tricky melodic and rhythmic twists with speed and perspicacity of a seasoned empiricist. Rounding out the group, Morris and Baker are an ideal rhythm team and both find plenty of space for their own contributions. The under-recorded Baker is particularly noteworthy and the lithesome touch he brings to his kit powers the group with a loose, but exacting undercurrent of rhythms. Morris' muttered vocalizations which often accompany his reticular bass lines give an audible affirmation of how much the man gets into his instrument.
With recordings like this one Gjerstad continues to write the book on Norwegian free improvisation, almost single-handedly and doggedly advancing the music from his own unique perspective. There's no doubt that if Norway's jazz scene had been populated by like-minded musician's of his vision and enthusiasm in earlier years the country would today be regarded as at the forefront of the idiom. Give this disc a listen for proof of why.
Track Listing: Through the Woods/ Frodiodi/ J7/ LA-Stavanger/ X-Mas Cards/ Pip/ The Smell of Autumn.
Recorded: September 15 & 16, 1997, The Spirit Room, Rossie, New York.
Available directly through North Country Distributors (http://www.cadencebuilding.com)
Side Note: Gjerstad's trio featuring bassist William Parker and percussionist Hamid Drake will be touring the United States in January 2000. Don't miss the opportunity witness their music first hand. Tour dates and locations are listed below.
Friday, 14th Chicago, IL Saturday, 15th Chicago, IL Sunday, 16th Minneapolis, MN Tuesday, 18th Bloomington, IN Wednesday, 19th Chicago, IL Friday, 21st Ann Arbor, MI Saturday, 22nd Pittsburgh, PA Tuesday, 25th San Diego, CA Wednesday, 26th Portland, OR Thursday, 27th Seattle, WA Friday, 28th Vancouver, British Columbia Saturday, 29th Edmonton, Alberta
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.